Sunday, 23 November 2014

An Oscar winner, a Minister, a family funeral and a celebrity chef

I've had the most amazing week and I don't know where to begin.

My newly-wed buddy Siobhan, sans hubby, came on an unexpected overnight stay last Friday.  At one stage I thought that Siobhan would marry my boy, despite the 30 something year age gap. She was blonde and bought him sweets - My boy was smitten from the start. Alas, it was no meant to be. Leon soon got over her recent marriage, when Siobhan arrived on Friday with a kids magazine with free stuff sellotaped to the cover.   I enjoyed drinking wine with my buddy, to assist the post-wedding analysis.

On Saturday afternoon, my lovely Mammy and a clatter of day trippers from the 'Cormeen Ladies Club' landed in Newbridge Silverware. Myself and Mya stood at the doorway and greeted the gang as they arrived - one Meath accent stronger than the next. Hugs and kisses from women I hadn't seen in twenty years. I walked around the Style Museum with my Mam. It's a real treat for people with a thing for classic tailoring ... As the women left for their bus, some of them gave Mya money to buy sweets. It doesn't seem that long since the same women gave me money for sweets. I resisted holding my hand out and asking if I could have some too, in a squeaky voice.
                                                                                                                                                                   The women dispatched back to Meath, myself and Mya headed  on to Riverbank for the launch of the
Kildare Biennale exhibition. My college lecturer from NCAD, Gary Granville and Glen Hansard (Oscar award winning musician and actor, in case you didn't know) were guest speakers. Glen spoke about how, as a teenager, he met one of the participating artists, Philippa Bayliss, through a chance encounter with her son and ended up living in her house for a number of years. Many years later, after his acting role, he bought a painting from her that he always admired. He spoke of how Philippa had supported him to study music and how her free spirit inspired him.
His words were uplifting and he was generous with his time.

Just after the speeches, Mya wanted to go to the toilet, rather urgently, as seven year olds do. Public toilets are always a novelty for my little ones - all those foam soap dispensers and hand driers. Mya took forever ... well ... long enough for me to miss Glen Hansard singing a tune in the gallery next door ! Damn and blast and drat and words like that ...

As the launch finished, Mya noticed that Donal Skehan, the 'Kitchen Hero' TV chef was hosting a cookery event in the theatre.  She looked up at me with her big brown eyes 'can we go Mam, please ?'. 'Seriously?', sez I, secretly thinking 'that guy is an awful eejit' on the telly.  'Seriously'. Two hours later, I was a Kitchen Hero convert. Aged 28, this guy has carved out a niche for himself, is the author of a number of cookery books and had landed a role on Swedish TV (albeit with a superly dodgy accent). Fair flipping play to him. Mya was thrilled to meet Donal afterwards and loved telling him that she bakes scones and makes soup.

I tried to explain to her on the way home what a big deal it was to win an Oscar and how amazing it was for Glen Hansard, an Irish musician, to win an award out of all of the musicians in the world. She smiled at me and opened her signed Donal Skehan cookery book 'To Leon and Mya ...'

On Sunday morning, I got a text from my Mam. It was early, so I guessed that it was bad news. Martin Russell, my father's cousin had died unexpectedly.

As children, Martin and his sister came to live with my father's family when his mother died.  As a   result, Martin was a big part of my family.  I will most remember Martin for his quiet tap-tap on our back door on a Saturday night, his penchant for my Mother's apple tart, the line of silk Daffodil Day daffs on his car dash board. The beep on his Japanese import car, when he went over the speed limit, his 'no-distance-too-long' response to any request for a lift in his car. Milky Moos and Emerald sweets, wrapped in green foil (I always ate them when Martin gave me them, even though I didn't really like the coconut blend).  He was a big fan of ladies GAA and Ian Paisley. Martin was a grea man to visit the extended Russell family. As my brother Eoin said 'He brought news, but didn't carry stories'.

My mother reminded me the other day of a time when, as young children, myself and my brother Derek teased Martin about his short stature. In really bold, giddy humour, we persisted in calling Martin a dwarf. My poor mother was torn between telling us off and ignoring us - which ever mode would make us stop. All these years later, I feel guilty and hate the thought that I had caused Martin any distress, even if I was only 7. I wondered was he subjected to similar comments over the years and if so, how he felt about it.

The great, the good and the Russell's gathered for Martin's funeral on Tuesday last. I became 'John-Russell-of-Milltown's' daughter again. I met second cousins that I hadn't seen since childhood and some whom I had never met. I was struck by the strong family resemblances, with many second cousins who could pass for siblings. The distinctive Russell mouth (in every sense), the fine Daly nose that passed me by, voices that sounded similar. At one stage, I mistook my father's first cousin (John-Russell-of-Feagh)'s son for my brother. Coincidentally, both of the lads are mechanics.

I stood back in Kingscourt graveyard and watched on. I watched my parents, aunts and uncles, who have lost many from their inner circle in the last few years.  Their old routines broken. Now dusting themselves off, reinventing themselves and supporting each other. Martin won't knock on my parents back door anymore. My Mam won't fuss to make him tea again - 'I'm not making it for you Martin. I'm making it for myself. You'll have a cup ?'

Over the days of Martin's wake, I attended a meeting with Arts Officer colleagues and the newly appointed Minister for the Arts. At the Minister's request, we met in Ballyjamesduff. The only other time I had been in B'duff was 25 years ago. My father brought me to a meat factory where his cattle were being slaughtered. Although I didn't actually go in to the factory, it made such an impression on me, that I haven't eaten meat since.

Growing up on the right side of the Meath/Cavan border, I was brought up to consider Cavan as the poor relation, having little going on there, apart from having 365 lakes. All these years later, it appears that Cavan has come a long way. Or maybe it was grand all along and I just didn't know. The hotel where we stayed, the Farnham Estate was one of the nicest I've ever been to. The spa is amazing. I swam in the heated outdoor pool in the quiet darkness. As I looked out on the surrounding countryside, twinkling with lights, I felt like I was having an out of body experience - such was the range of events in the previous few days.

It's strange going back to work after a family funeral, where the world has continued on as if nothing had happened. I wanted to tell people about Martin and all the kindnesses he offered me over the years.  I've shed a wee tear when I drive - my time for thinking. I found myself selecting melancholic songs from CD's.

I was driving yesterday with my little girl. She asked me to put on 'the song ... You know ... The song ... The  one you played after Riverbank'. She meant 'Falling Slowly', the song written, composed and performed by Glen Hansard and Mark√©ta Irglov√° and for which it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 80th Academy Awards.  I had played it for her in the car, when I was giving her a lecture. I didn't think she was listening to me. 'It's a good song Mam'. 'It is Mya', I said with tears rolling down my face.

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